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Tackling Substance Misuse as a Driver of Violence and Abuse

Tackling Substance Misuse as a Driver of Violence and Abuse

The National Retail Crime Steering Group established a Task and Finish Group to explore the role drugs and alcohol play in driving violence and abuse towards shop workers. The group collated examples of research, pilots and projects, that are working to tackle this issue. This section shares more information on the issue, this work and how retailers can work alongside their Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) to drive down violence and abuse against shop workers.

The Problem

Violence and abuse affects many shopworkers each year causing physical and mental injury 

Levels of violence and abuse towards shop workers have been rising steadily year on year. The Crime Survey for England and Wales estimated that in the year to March 2020 there were 688,000 incidents of violence experienced at work by adults in employment. The British Retail Consortium (BRC) estimated that 450 incidents of violence happened every day in shops in 2020 which align with estimates of the problem. 

This violence and abuse brings with it significant financial costs to businesses with the BRC estimating its members spend £1.2 billion on measures to protect staff and prevent crime while the Association of Convenience Stores estimate its members spent £5,239 per store. The Association of Convenience stores have also estimated the total cost of crime for their sector at £100m equates to 9p per customer transaction. 

Violence and abuse can leave shopworkers with lasting physical and mental injury. Industry surveys have shown that attacks often include racist, misogynist, and homophobic abuse and attacks with weapons such as knives, syringes and hammers on the increase.

For further information refer to: 

‘It’s not part of the job’- Dr Emmeline Taylor Report 

Breaking the cycle: Effective Sentencing and Offender management for Retail Offenders 

Prolific offenders are responsible for 70% of violence, abuse and theft in shops 

It is estimated that prolific offenders are behind 70% of shop theft and these individuals are increasingly resorting to violence and abuse directed at shop staff. 

The Home Affairs Select Committee highlighted the issue of prolific offenders in its report on shopworker violence and abuse. 

Katy Bourne, Sussex’s Police and Crime Commissioner has sponsored a trial in Brighton between the Co-op and Sussex Constabulary which has targeted prolific offenders and as a result, incidents of violence and abuse in those stores have reduced. 

Refer to section 3 ‘How to get involved’ for further information.

Prolific offenders are often driven by the need to feed a substance misuse problem 

The Centre for Social Justice carried out in-depth research on this issue and their findings outlined in the ‘Desperate for A Fix’ report demonstrate that what very often drives such prolific offending is issues of substance abuse and addiction. The report concluded: “With 70 per cent of shop theft attributed to frequent users of heroin, crack cocaine and powdered cocaine, it is evident that the potential for dramatic reductions in crime could come from a reconsideration of the response to these offenders, designed to tackle their addiction and to help offenders move into recovery and lead drug- and crime-free lives.” (Desperate for a Fix, P.17) 

The ACS Crime Report 2022 and a separate report, ‘Breaking the Cycle’ by Dr Emmeline Taylor, also found that drug and alcohol addiction were the main motivators for prolific offending. Many offenders Dr Taylor interviewed made this clear: 

"A big proportion of my offences are shoplifting, all to fund my drug addiction. I’ve been to prison 35 to 40 times. There is no help and no real rehabilitation in prison. I needed a sentence to stop the drug use - residential rehab or a treatment centre - a sentence that focuses on solving the addiction problem"

Retailer's Toolkit 

This toolkit signposts to guidance and advice for retailers whose stores are being targeted by prolific offenders with addiction issues, including what to do in store, how to work with the police and how to work with the community. 

Download the toolkit here.